Of all the ways a boy can learn to fish, nothing beats a father. And yet, the earliest memory I have of fishing with my dad is painful.
I was at the age when chasing minnows in a bucket was endlessly entertaining, and we were fishing from shore at a neighborhood pond when a bumblebee landed on my thumb. A second later, a sunfish yanked my bobber underwater. I set the hook, and the bee promptly stung me.
I turned in tears to my dad, who, as always, had a remedy to make me feel better. We spent the afternoon trapping bees between pieces of bread we brought to feed the ducks. In the end, revenge was ours.
And from then on, I knew: In fishing, as in all of life, my dad had my back.
That’s the only time I’ve ever cried while fishing, though a few muskies that got away have brought me close to tears. Dad, too. He always wants me to be the one who catches the trophy; such selflessness prompted him to bait my hook and give me his pole whenever he hooked a good fish for more years than I care to admit.
His desire for me to catch fish and be happy––after all, the two go hand-in-hand, right?––is also the driving force behind his obsession with landing my fish. Dad leans so far over the boat when netting any big fish I’m reeling in that I know it’s only a matter of time before he falls overboard.
I can’t tease him about his gravity-defying acrobats, though, because one day a 45-inch muskie I was fighting spit the hook just before I brought it within range. Dad lunged out and miraculously netted it in the split-second before it could swim away.
But for all our memories of monster fish––we’ve evolved from bluegills and bass to 40-pound catfish, 60-inch sturgeon and Alaskan king salmon––it’s the other moments we cherish the most. Early morning sunrises in the Canadian wild without another boat on the lake. Dense fog in the river valley forcing us to navigate by memory rather than sight. Sneaking up behind a moose as it snacks in a weedy bay, using our trolling motor to inch so close we could practically poke it with a 7-foot rod.
This year will mark the 10th consecutive year we’ve spent Father’s Day on a Canadian fishing trip at Fireside Lodge. We’ll never forget the year a black bear watched us as we caught a muskie 30 yards from shore. Or the time Dad set his fishing pole down in the boat and accidentally knocked it into the lake (to this day, he claims a fish pulled it overboard). Or the June day that was so windy nobody in camp dared to go out fishing … except for us.
Fact is, we don’t go fishing for fish. We go for the experience. Because when your best friend, father and fishing partner are one in the same, it doesn’t really matter how they’re biting.
My dad and me (far right) at Fireside Lodge with the owners and another father-son duo we met at the lodge 10 years ago on our first trip. Their annual trip is always the same week as ours, so we've become fishing buddies.